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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Incipient newspaper trends II: going local

"The notion of people getting news from one limited source just doesn't apply any more in this media universe. There's going to be a big period of adjustment ahead for the major news players." Fair enough. But, continuing on our last 'trends' posting, in what direction is this adjustment going to take large news organizations?

Jeff Mignon at Media Cafe clarifies this general quote from New York University professor Jay Rosen with his latest postings about the move towards local... which unfortunately Mignon feels does not involve print:

"(A new) business model has to be focused on local press... dailies need to rethink themselves as local portals of information. All information. Not just that created by journalists, but all that the geographical community needs, and all the little fragmented communities inside itself, based on the interests of individuals."

For a few years now, similar theories have been championed and even practiced by citizen journalists such as Dan Gillmor who have launched hyper-local, citizen driven websites, completely independent of established news organizations. Mignon relates what these operations have done to the established media, saying that in going local, newspapers should realize four "revolutions:"

1. all information of interest is not written by journalists, but includes info such as business hours and commercial or professional information
2. all information of interest does not have to come from journalistic sources but other reliable sources as well
3. all of this information must be posted on a paper's website
4. the reader will have more of a role in creating content, even if editors will maintain control.

This last 'revolution' especially distinguishes between independent participatory journalism sites and established news organizations integrating citizen reporting in their content; many see citizen journalism, especially blogs, as inherently scant of editing. Mignon also describes two other technological phenomenon that point towards local: 1. mobile phone users would like to receive local info such as weather updates on their cell phones and 2. papers would be wise to include podcasting, which provide the option of exclusive local interviews and audio reader commentary, on their websites in order to attract young readers. He also praises the Los Angeles Times' branded RSS reader as a logical development towards making the paper a world news aggregator on a local level.

Apart from LAT, two other major papers have recently taken steps towards a local focus: the San Jose Mercury News emphasizing local news on its front page (posting and interview with editor) and the Washington Post's decision to create two homepages, one local and one national/international.

Mignon's ideas are echoed by Eli Noam whose Financial Times article says "(Newspapers) must focus on their core competency, which usually is local information. Cutting costs by cutting local newsroom budgets is therefore myopic," and William Powers at the National Journal who recounts his frustration when, during snow storms, his local Boston Globe did not post business and school cancellations on its website.

So what do major conventional newspapers need to do to capitalize on the local news focus? Well, they need to focus on local news of course! Fortunately, newspapers are already one up on local citizen journalism sites in that they have an established and respected brand. But if they don't cater to the citizen craving local news soon, this incipient trend may take off without them.

Tune into our next posting in this mini-series to find out how to successfully fund your customized and local news.

Sources: Media Cafe (plus mobiles, podcasting and LAT), National Journal, Financial Times

Posted by john burke on July 21, 2005 at 05:45 PM in a. Citizen journalism, i. Future of print, n. Online strategies, q. Regional and ethnic newspapers | Permalink

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